Easier Ways to Surf

A friend of mine has an iPod Touch, not so much to listen to music, but so he can check his mail and surf the web quickly and easily sat on his sofa. He's been finding it great for those times when you want to quickly look something up or check your email without the hassle of booting his laptop.

I have to say I have been tempted by this to get a Touch myself, the lack of a keyboard and stylus means it's very easy to interface with and I certainly have had times when I couldn't be bothered booting my main machine up just to check a couple of emails. I haven't been able to justify the expense just for occasionally checking email/surfing the web from my sofa (actually, I'd like an iPhone, but I'm not willing to pay £900 for including the contract, I'll wait for a SIM-free 3G version). I also have a small laptop which is rarely used now I have my desktop, it's a Fujitsu-Siemens Lifebook S6120D, not the fastest thing on the planet, but more than capable of surfing the internet.

The thing is, it also takes a long time to get up and running from hitting the power button, I was looking for something in iPod territory, i.e. sub-10 seconds, which, as it turns out, is impossible of a normal PC (my barely gets past POST in that time). Anyway, I tried a few small OSs (gOS and Damn Small Linux) to see if they worked OK, but they booted slower than Windows. I re-installed XP and set about finding tutorials to make it quicker and I managed to get the time from power on to usable down to under 30 seconds (with WIFI disabled), which is still a lot, but try timing your PC, I bet it's well over a minute, more like two or three. I've listed what I did in an article over a Viewfinder Design for anyone who's interested.

I'm still not happy with this, but concede it's about as good as I'm going to get with an ordinary PC, even cut-down machines like the Eee PC take a while to load and operating systems' boot times just seem to be getting longer (I rarely sit and wait, I switch my machine on and go do something else).

So, yesterday I'm reading an article over at Scott Hanselman's site (actually, I was there looking at a different article, but found that on the main page) which talks about Amazon's Kindle. The Kindle, for those who don't know, was launched by Amazon in the US last year and is, essentially, an electronic book. It uses a high resolution black and white screen to approximate paper and you can download books and various sites to it and read them on the screen. It'll even play back MP3s.

Electronic books haven't really taken off, and I didn't think this would be any different, a novelty rather than anything else, but the Kindle seems to have gained some traction. It uses an EVDO wireless link (part of mobile phone networks in the US) to allow you to buy and download books, newspapers and blog content (from select sites). The Kindle also have an experimental mobile web browser.

That's where it gets interesting for me. The iPod Touch has a small screen, 3.5" on the diagonal, the Kindle's is 6", still not vast, not even paperback size, but better, it is black and white compared to the full colour on the iPod though. It has less storage than the Touch (which comes in 8, 16 and 32GB versions, the Kindle has 256Mb onboard and is expandable by SD cards) and costs more ($399 compared to an 8GB Touch for $299). It also uses keys rather than a touch screen.

All in all it sounds like the Touch wins, but the benefits of the Kindle are the larger screen, the longer battery life, but probably most important is the quality of the screen. I was looking at it and thinking I could quite happily read all the RSS feeds I subscribe to (short posts I read directly in the RSS reader, only if the article is interesting do I move on). This would be a great way to do it without the hassle of firing up the PC, especially if you could add a touch screen to allow easy navigation of sub-pages. In the short term, just adding a WIFI option to the Kindle would make it a far more usable (outside the US).

Of course, ideally, what you want is something with a larger (A4) touch screen, full colour, more memory, WIFI-enabled, while being slim and having less area around the screen, of course, what I'm describing is a tablet PC. I think they'll make a big comeback in the next couple of years.

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